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Overview & Description

Biofeedback refers to methods that allow people to have conscious control over body functions that usually occur automatically. The heartbeat, blood pressure, muscle tension, pain response, and brain waves have all been targeted. An instrument measures changes in these functions. The person is made aware of the measurements. The name biofeedback comes from this biological feedback.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Biofeedback may be used on its own or with other medical treatments for the following conditions:

  • high blood pressure
  • fast or rapid heart rate
  • acute situational anxiety
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • phobias
  • obsessive compulsive disorders
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  • panic disorder
  • headaches
  • chronic pain syndromes
  • sexual dysfunction
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • nicotine or other substance abuse and addiction
  • asthma
  • epilepsy
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • multiple personality disorder
  • sleep disorders
  • ulcers
  • urinary incontinence
  • Any child or adult with these conditions may be a candidate for biofeedback. A certified biofeedback specialist may be consulted.

    How is the procedure performed?

    Instruments are used to measure things like blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, and sweat gland activity. The breathing rate, muscle tension, and electrical activity in the brain might also be recorded. These functions are not normally under conscious control. The instruments just record information and do not change anything. The goal is to teach the person to monitor these functions more carefully. They can then use various methods to change the responses consciously. These include guided imagery and muscle relaxation. The person is connected to a device that shows the heart rate, for example, with a meter or by sounding a beep. Based on this feedback, the person tries to adjust the heart rate.

    Biofeedback may be administered by a certified biofeedback specialist. This person may be a psychologist, a physical therapist, or other healthcare provider.

    Preparation & Expectations

    What happens right after the procedure?

    Guided biofeedback may involve one-hour sessions weekly for 10 weeks. People first learn to use the instruments as an aid in altering responses. Then they learn how to apply this to everyday life, without the need for instruments and professional guidance. Success depends on a person's motivation to get and maintain the skills, and on how severe the medical condition is. Often the condition is not cured, but becomes easier to tolerate. It may be possible to use smaller amounts of medications. More costly medical treatments may be avoided. Most people feel that their lives are improved when they can participate in their own medical care.

    Home Care and Complications

    What happens later at home?

    After learning a technique like relaxing the muscles, daily practice is helpful. That way the techniques will be ready when needed, such as in a stressful situation.

    What are the potential complications after the procedure?

    People with medical problems should still have standard medical care. Biofeedback cannot be used in place of a complete medical exam or any needed treatment. While biofeedback may reduce the use of certain medications, this decision needs to be made with a healthcare professional's advice and counsel.

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